This week's installment of Downton Abbey primarily concerned itself in dealing with the aftermath of the houseparty of doom. I'd like to address the Anna-related portion of this hour's storyline first. Realizing that this episode opens the DAY after her attack (just ONE DAY, people!), it is extraordinarily painful to see Anna (Joanne Froggatt) attempt to hold her composure, knowing her attacker is still on the grounds, albeit preparing to leave. Bates's (Brendan Coyle) constant fretting that he is somehow responsible for Anna's black mood wore thin after the first mention or two...and underscores, I think, a problem in the couple's characterization that I'd never really considered. There is no reference point for a sad Anna...even when Bates was imprisoned, when you knew that was weighing on her, she was never overwhelming, outwardly depressed. While I've loved Anna's sweet spirit and general enthusiasm for life and positive outlook since the show began, in dealing with the aftermath of this attack it's a bit clearer that to this point she's not been the most nuanced of characters, hmm? I'm not knocking her, but as this storyline (which I hate BTW) has brought this to light, I feel it is fair to mention it. I mean it seems only realistic to me that they would've had a spat or two (or ten) in their married life to date, but this side of Anna has completely thrown Bates off his game...and while I get him wanting to know what's behind her sadness, his worry face seems a bit nagging after a while as opposed to actually being, you know, worried. I have to give Froggatt credit here -- she is revealing nuances in her acting here that speak to what a superb talent she is, and Fellowes -- well, her speech to Mrs. Hughes about feeling "unclean" and unworthy rang very true. So while I hate that we've gone there...at least how Anna is processing this feels honest, painfully so.
Branson (Allen Leech) is likewise riddled with guilt over sleeping with Edna (MyAnna Buring), never mind that she got him flat-out drunk in order to orchestrate their liason. It is unfortunate that for all the aftermath of Anna's situation touches on the painful emotional after effect of rape, the flip side of the coin -- a situation where a woman takes advantage of man in the same regard -- is so bungled. Branson's guilt is genuine, and my heart really broke for him, because at that time (and even today) I think society conditions men to think that they can't be taken advantage of...and that forces them to process events of the like involving Branson and Edna in a whole other way, denying that an attack occurred and instead taking on the guilt of a moral failing or lapse in judgment.
So we all knew the only reason Edna weaseled her way back into Downton's halls was because she HAD TO GET IN BRANSON'S PANTS, because apparently she'd decided that he was to be her ticket out of service and no other would do. *headdesk* Over the course of this installment Branson reluctantly agrees to accompany Mary and Rose on a trip to London. During this time he and Mary have a beautifully played, very honest exchange, where she attempts to get him to share what's so obviously bothering him, and he refuses, sure it will ruin their friendship -- and I love the fact that they HAVE such a solid friendship now. Mary's advice -- that finding a safe person with which to share one's heart is critical -- is beautifully honest, which sends Branson in search of his unofficial mother, Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan).
I LOVED how Mrs. Hughes read Edna the riot act, but honestly her "evidence" -- a family planning book or something like that?? -- was really, really weak. And while I am not sorry to see Edna go (please let it be forever this time!), the manner in which the desired end was accomplished felt like SUCH a rushed cop-out. Now, apparently, Branson is fine, because as a man he can just show lapses in judgement, and he's incapable of being raped...so any completely viable emotional fallout is brushed aside in a rather clumsy fashion. Ugh. However...Mrs. Hughes rocked it, this scene being just one of many reasons that I loved her in this episode -- the other being every other scene she shared with Carson (Jim Carter). I LOVE THOSE TWO TOGETHER SO MUCH. And when she had his former lady love's photograph framed as a gift? I DIED. They are SO PERFECT TOGETHER.
So, back to upstairs shenanigans -- Branson aside -- for a bit. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is beyond thrilled with the success of her houseparty, sure that Anthony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) has piqued Mary's interest in LIVING AGAIN. Robert (Hugh Bonneville), to his credit, takes a bit more measured of a view to this "development" - ha! Cora arranges for her sister-in-law Rosamund (Samantha Bond -- I've missed you!!) to invite Anthony and his loser friend John Bullock (Andrew Alexander) to dinner with Mary, Branson, and Rose (Lily James), the latter OH SO EXCITED to be in London where, you know, STUFF HAPPENS.
And stuff does indeed happen in London, my friends, because they go to a SWANKY NIGHT CLUB and Bullock gets smashed and embarrasses Rose on the dance floor (though seriously I think she is just incapable of not starting fights or getting embarrassed when dancing...something is BOUND to happen), leading to her rescue by the African-American bandleader (and terrible singer) Jack Ross (Gary Carr). Seriously, not a fan of his voice...but whatever. I'm not really sure what racial politics was like in England in the 1920s, but Rosamund is just shy of scandalized by Rose's enthusiasm for the young gallant and ushers them all home. So apparently this is the point of Rose this season...a romance with a man of a different race...which, given Fellowes's track record in dealing with controversy will probably go no where.
Meanwhile -- or later? I've lost all track of time -- Edith (Laura Carmichael) is in London to say goodbye to Gregson (Charles Edwards), who is happily tripping along in his plans to become a German citizen so he can ditch his crazy wife and marry Edith. He proceeds to seduce her with responsibility, having her sign some sort of power of attorney that gives her authority at his paper, they kiss, and the next thing you know she is doing the walk of shame sneaking back into Rosamund's house early the following morning. Rosamund isn't all about this development, but I really don't see Edith being taken advantage of here...and honestly I think she and Gregson make a nice couple. Their lives are just a hot mess any way you look at it. :P
Back at Downton, Gillingham shows up to FRIGGIN' PROPOSE to Mary because hey, they just reconnected like four days ago after YEARS apart and he LOVES HER can't you tell??? And why the heck not?? That was the saddest, most pathetic thing ever. I mean LAME, Fellowes, SO LAME. I'm all for Mary moving on but to have an option propose in his SECOND EPISODE appearance...well he goes from looking sort of cute with possibilities to unbelievably pathetic. He'd better not be the new endgame, 'cause if so he has a LOT of ground to make up.
Is Violet (Maggie Smith) nicer this season? I'm not complaining mind you -- I think every word that drops from Maggie Smith's lips is golden. But she's so nice and understanding to Mary and Isobel (Penelope Wilton), especially the latter. I LOVE it...I never thought I'd see the day where I felt Violet was..mellowing, is perhaps the word -- mellowing a bit. *wink* Dare I say it? Are Violet and Isobel fated to become BFFs? Isobel seems to have found her new purpose in life as she agrees to work at Dr. Clarkson's (David Robb) new clinic. So...remember when he was all into her? Are we gonna revisit that, like, EVER?
The balance of the downstairs action in this episode revolves around Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) getting exasperated (or maybe I'm projecting?) watching Jimmy (Ed Speleers) and Alfred (Matt Milne) STILL moon over Ivy (Cara Theobold), while Daisy (Sophie McShera) gets more and more miserable because she's STILL got a thing for Alfred. At this point I don't even know why Jimmy is all of a sudden into Ivy, but whatever...it all drives Alfred to the crisis point of actually applying for a training position in the kitchens of the Ritz in London. And to all that I say GO FOR IT, Alfred. Just because Jimmy doesn't want to do anything with his life doesn't mean his interest in Ivy should hold you back. Or something. This quadrangle thing going on is just exhausting.
This felt more than usual like a filler episode, and given the pall hanging over the show in the aftermath of Anna's attack that's understandable. What I wonder if Fellowes ever grasped was how introd a rape plotline would so overshadow EVERYTHING ELSE going on. Because even though only Anna and Mrs. Hughes know about the attack, it's pretty near impossible to view the more light-hearted, soapy shenanigans the show is known for without filtering it through the lens of "if they only knew they'd act differently," or something like that. ANYWAYS...I'd love to hear your thoughts on the episode, so please chime in!
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